AmeriScan: February 2, 2007

* * *

Storms Smash Central Florida, Killing 19

LADY LAKE, Florida, February 2, 2007 (ENS) - Thunderstorms and at least one tornado swept central Florida early this morning destroying hundreds of homes across central Florida and killing 19 people. Florida's emergency management chief, Craig Fugate, said it could take several days before the exact number of dead is known.

Residents in Lake, Sumter and Volusia counties were awakened in the hours before dawn by multiple twisters that leveled homes and businesses for miles, leaving families devastated.

The worst damage occurred where the tornado touched down in northern Lake County and eastern Volusia County. The storms caused power outages affecting some 20,000 people.

Governor Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency in four counties, activating the National Guard, and he toured the affected area Friday afternoon, talking with survivors and assessing the damage.

The governor has sent a letter to President George W. Bush requesting declaration of an "expedited major disaster."

Finding people who may be trapped in the rubble was top priority for disaster officials today, and rescue teams with dogs combed affected neighborhoods searching for survivors. Dawn to dusk curfews have been imposed in Lake County to prevent looting.

Preliminary assessments conducted by military aircraft show 700 houses smashed and 300 others damaged. A large retirement community encompassing parts of Lake, Marion and Sumter counties sustained massive damage, and Governor Crist expressed particular concern for affected people who are elderly and on fixed incomes.

According to the National Weather Service, the severe weather was caused by the El Nino jet stream over the eastern Pacific, which has resulted in extreme weather conditions across the country.

This is the second severe weather system to hit Florida in the past 39 days. The earlier system passed through central Florida on Christmas Day, damaging Lake and Volusia counties.

"This second severe weather system has taxed these communities and their emergency first responders beyond their capabilities," Governor Crist wrote to the President. "Some of these communities are still in recovery mode from the Christmas Day Tornadoes."

Food, water and ice are being brought in by federal and state agencies, and by the nonprofit America's Second Harvest, a nationwide system of food banks.

"Even though the damage assessment is ongoing, we know that there will be a tremendous need for support in the towns that were hit, "said Dave Krepcho, president and CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. "In less than a few minutes, entire neighborhoods were wiped off the map. We'll be an active part of the relief effort, lending our help and offering food and cleanup supplies to local agencies."

The Florida Department of Health is urging the public to avoid carbon monoxide, CO, exposure by taking precautions with gas-powered appliances and charcoal or gas grills. The Department also urges precaution in the use of space heaters, given their risk of fire and dangerous fumes.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas, and is highly poisonous. Depending on the level of exposure, CO may cause fatigue, weakness, chest pains for those with heart disease, shortness of breath upon exertion, nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, lack of coordination, impaired vision, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, death.

Portable generators can produce high levels of CO very quickly. "If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away. Do not delay," the Health Department warned.

* * *

Thousands of Wind Turbines Off Atlantic Coast?

NEWARK, Delaware, February 2, 2007 (ENS) - Strong winds can be deadly, but when harnessed with wind turbines, they can produce electricity without the polluting emissions produced by burning coal, oil and gas.

The wind resource off the Mid-Atlantic coast could supply the energy needs of nine states from Massachusetts to North Carolina, plus the District of Columbia with enough left over to support a 50 percent increase in future energy demand, finds a study by researchers at the University of Delaware and Stanford University.

Researchers found that the wind over the Middle Atlantic Bight - the aquatic region from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, could produce 330 gigawatts of electrical power if thousands of wind turbines were installed off the coast.

The estimated power supply from offshore wind substantially exceeds the region's current energy use, which the scientists estimate at 185 gigawatts, from electricity, gasoline, fuel oil and natural gas sources.

Supplying the region's energy needs with offshore wind power would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 68 percent and reduce greenhouse gases by 57 percent, according to the study.

The study marks the first analysis in the United States of a large-scale region's potential offshore wind-energy supply using a model that links geophysics with wind-electric technology, the researchers said.

The study defines where wind turbines at sea may be located in relation to water depth, geology and "exclusion zones" for bird flyways, and shipping lanes.

The results are published in the January 24 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a peer-reviewed scientific journal produced by the American Geophysical Union, a nonprofit organization of geophysicists with more than 49,000 members in 140 countries.

Willett Kempton, the University of Delaware professor of marine policy who led the study, has worked on several public opinion surveys about offshore wind power over the past three years.

He surveyed Cape Cod residents, many of whom have opposed a major offshore wind farm proposed for their area, and conducted a more recent survey in Delaware that revealed strong support for offshore wind power as the next electricity source for the state.

"In doing our surveys and watching the public debate," Kempton said, "we saw that no one had solid empirical data on the actual size of the offshore wind resource, and we felt this was important for policy decisions."

* * *

Universities Get $5.7 Million for Nuclear Power Research

WASHINGTON, DC, February 2, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, today announced it will award $5.7 million to nine universities for research grants under the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative.

These grants are designed to engage U.S. university professors and students in advanced nuclear energy research and development for the Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative and the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative.

"These awards demonstrate our commitment to pursuing nuclear research, and we are eager for our next generation of scientists and engineers to make scientific breakthroughs that will help diversify our nation’s energy sources," said DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon.

Generation II and III nuclear power plants are operating today. Generation IV nuclear plants are based on five new technologies that U.S. researchers are currently developing.

Two are thermal neutron spectrum systems - the Very-High-Temperature Reactor and the Supercritical-Water-Cooled Reactor with coolants and temperatures that enable hydrogen or electricity production with high efficiency.

Three are fast neutron spectrum systems - Gas-Cooled, Lead-Cooled, and Sodium-Cooled fast reactors - that will enable more effective management of uranium, plutonium and other radioactive elements through recycling of most components in the discharged fuel.

The goal of the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative is to demonstrate the commercial-scale production of hydrogen using nuclear energy to fuel a future hydrogen economy.

The DOE plans to complete construction of laboratory-scale hydrogen production systems and begin testing in 2008. By 2019 the DOE plans to complete construction and checkout of a nuclear hydrogen demonstration facility.

To see a list of selected universities, visit: http://www.energy.gov/news/4705.htm

* * *

Group Seeks ExxonMobil Records on Global Warming Spin

SANTA MONICA, California, February 2, 2007 (ENS) - The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, FTCR, today called on Congress to subpoena ExxonMobil's records and probe the oil giant's funding of organizations involved in disputing the reality of global warming.

FTCR urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to launch the investigation after a report in the British newspaper, "The Guardian," that the Exxon-financed American Enterprise Institute was offering scientists and economists $10,000 each to write articles undercutting the report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. Travel expenses were also being offered.

The American Enterprise Institute has received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration, which has in the past resisted reports of global warming, although top White House and Energy Department officials said today that the administration agrees with the findings of the IPCC report.

Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees, "The Guardian" reported.

"Exxon Mobil made a profit of $40 billion last year - more than any company ever - not just on the on the backs of overcharged motorists, but at the expense of human life on Earth itself. Now it's using the profits to bury the evidence and distract attention from the most serious problem the world faces," said John Simpson, FTCR consumer advocate.

ExxonMobil responded to the IPCC report in a statement today saying, "There is increasing evidence that the Earth's climate has warmed on average about 0.6 C in the last century. Many global ecosystems, especially the polar areas, are showing signs of warming. CO2 emissions have increased during this same time period - and emissions from fossil fuels and land use changes are one source of these emissions."

Acknowledging that "the risks to society and ecosystems could prove to be significant," ExxonMobil said, "it is prudent now to develop and implement strategies that address the risks, keeping in mind the central importance of energy to the economies of the world."

The FTCR's call for investigation follows a report last month by the Union of Concerned Scientists alleging that ExxonMobil "has adopted tobacco-industry tactics to spread disinformation on global warming science."

According to the scientists' report, ExxonMobil has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.

* * *

Poll: Americans Worried About Biological, Chemical Terrorism

WASHINGTON, DC, February 2, 2007 (ENS) - Americans are more concerned about biological and chemical terrorism and food contamination than ever before, according to a new poll released today by the nonprofit group Trust for America's Health.

The poll of 856 registered voters was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on January 18-22 and is available at http://www.healthyamericans.org. The margin of error was +/- 3.4 percent.

Seventy percent of those surveyed ranked chemical terrorism as a major concern in 2007, an 18 point jump from the level of concern expressed in 2006.

Fears about a biological attack like anthrax or smallpox increased 14 points from last year to 64 percent in 2007.

The largest increase in concern about biological and chemical terrorism was evident in self-identified ideological conservatives, whose concern about chemical and biological terrorism increased 19 and 17 percentage points respectively.

Forty-five percent of respondents believe the government is not prepared for a bioterror attack.

Worries about food contamination grew 16 points from 2006, with 67 percent listing it as a serious concern in 2007. Sixty-one percent of those polled are worried about the possibility of a pandemic flu outbreak and 53 percent believe the government is not prepared to deal with a global pandemic.

While levels of concern about bioterror, food contamination, and pandemic flu increased over the past year, those surveyed continued to rank cancer as their top health concern for the fourth consecutive year that TFAH has conducted its annual health concerns poll.

Eighty-four percent of those questioned listed cancer as a serious health concern, with 27 percent saying it is their top health concern. Heart disease was the second highest ranked concern with 80 percent ranking it as a major concern.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled believe the federal government should increase funding for disease research and preventive measures, with four-in-ten saying the government should spend "much more" than current spending levels.

Executive Director of Trust for America's Health Jeff Levi said, "We hope that the President's budget that will be released on Monday will provide sufficient funds to address the range of health threats our country faces and reflect the high levels of concern Americans feel about our nation's health."

* * *

Puerto Rico Governor Buys Flood Insurance for Residents

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, February 2, 2007 (ENS) - Governor Anibal Acevedo Vilá, Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, will purchase nearly 12,000 flood insurance policies for floodplain residents through an Executive Order.

These policies will be good for three years, after that time policies must be maintained by the property owner to qualify for federal disaster assistance.

"This has been a successful team effort to help reduce Puerto Rico’s vulnerability to flooding," said the Governor’s Authorized Representative José Guillermo Davila. "We are convinced that, even for people who haven't had recent flood damage, buying flood insurance is a vital step in protecting against disasters risk."

Often in the path of Atlantic hurricanes, Puerto Rico most recently suffered flooding, landslides, and mudslides in October 2005 that affected twelve municipalities in the island. President George W. Bush declared a major disaster in this incident, enabling federal grant assistance.

"Governor Acevedo Vilá has taken a monumental step forward in protecting residents of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico," said FEMA Director David Paulison.

"Flood insurance continues to be the best way to protect yourself financially against floods," Paulison said. "Governor Acevedo Vilá has made the commitment to ensure his residents are protected through insurance and are eligible for disaster assistance in the future.

"We must be vigilant and mindful that flooding can occur anytime, especially with another hurricane season on the horizon," said FEMA Regional Director Steven Kempf, Jr. "We encourage people to go to www.floodsmart.gov and know their flooding risk and what they can do to mitigate loss."

* * *